About this series: Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore — but only if COVID-19 conditions make it safe to do so. This series of daytrips and longer drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province, ands show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover.”
Ontario’s version of London may not have the gravitas of its British namesake, but visitors will find themselves pleasantly surprised by its big-city-meets-small-town charms. With its well-preserved historic sites, as well as restaurants and breweries, the Forest City makes for a fulfilling daytrip from Toronto. This one-day itinerary takes in some of the highlights of this cheerful riverside town.
In the morning:
Leave Toronto by around 8 a.m., driving west on Highway 403 and continue to Highway 401. You should arrive at your first stop, the Bag Lady Sandwich Shop, at about 10 a.m., depending on traffic. The walls of this quirky cafe are lined with vintage kitsch, ranging from nostalgic board games to Polaroid cameras and retro cookbooks.
Next, make your way to Covent Garden Market, a beloved London landmark with roots dating back to the 19th-century. Set in a handsome brick building, the market’s interior features dozens of local vendors selling fresh produce, specialty foods and other one-of-a-kind goods. Weather permitting, strap on your skates and hit the free outdoor rink located in front of the market at the Rotary Square. After showing off your best on-ice moves, pop across the street for a hot drink at Fire Roasted Coffee Co., which hand roasts its ethically sourced coffee beans onsite.
In the afternoon:
Ride your caffeine buzz to the Jonathon Bancroft-Snell Gallery to see one of the largest collections of contemporary ceramics in Canada. Featuring more than 100 artists from across the country, the gallery showcases everything from small, giftable items like teapots to large-scale sculptures, as well as special rotating solo and group exhibitions.
It’s time for a lunch stop at Wisdom Cafe, an inviting teashop and creperie. Order one of their savoury, housemade Japanese-style crepes, which are rolled into handheld cones and packed with fillings like smoked applewood ham or salmon and goat cheese.
After lunch, winter sports fans can head to Boler Mountain for an afternoon of skiing and snowboarding. The ski resort features 15 runs geared toward various skill levels, along with a three-run tube park. Alternatively, if you prefer culture over outdoorsy activities, learn about London’s place in medical history at Banting House, a national historic site that’s recognized as the place where, in 1920, Dr. Frederick Banting came up with the research idea that led to the discovery of insulin. The house now serves as a museum dedicated to Banting’s life and work.
Continue your exploration of the city’s past at nearby Eldon House, London’s oldest surviving residence, which was originally built in 1834. The house’s interior and exterior have been preserved in their 19th-century style, offering visitors insight into life in London during this time period.
Work up an appetite for dinner with a walk along Richmond Row, a pretty commercial strip that’s home to more than 200 retailers and restaurants. Stop in Grow and Bloom for flowers, plants and thoughtfully curated decor items, or admire the collection at long-running clothing boutique Saffron Road (and its lifestyle-oriented shop-within-a-shop Lofthouse Living). In the evening: For dinner, dig into dishes like freshly shucked oysters or braised beef cheek and birria tacos at Hunter & Co. You’d be remiss to leave London without experiencing its thriving craft beer scene. Before starting your journey back to Toronto, swing by Anderson Craft Ales, a family-owned and operated brewery known for its small-batch, handcrafted beers. Pick up a six-pack of their classic Cream Ale, a Canadian Brewing Awards’ gold medal winner, and one of their rotating seasonal brews to take home.
For the drive
Get the backstory on London’s link to one of the most significant health-care discoveries of the 20th century by listening to the “Stuff You Missed in History Class” podcast’s two-part episode on “A History of Diabetes.” London continues to be known as an important hub for medical research today. It is home to three major hospitals, as well as Western University and its Schulich School of Medicine.
COVID-19 need to know
Ontario is currently in a modified Step 2 of its “roadmap to reopen,” with indoor dinning banned. Some attractions may be closed or operating at a reduced capacity. Consult the Middlesex-London Health Unit for the most up-to-date information and contact individual businesses ahead of your trip to confirm how they’re currently operating.
Drive west on Highway 403
Take Exit 189 for Highbury Avenue South
Note: Times are suggestions only
- 10 a.m. Bag Lady Variety
- 11 a.m. Covent Garden Market
- 12:30 p.m. Fire Roasted Coffee Co.
- 1 p.m. Jonathon Bancroft-Snell Gallery
- 1:30 p.m. Wisdom Café
- 3 p.m. Boler Mountain, Banting House and Eldon House
- 5:30 p.m. Richmond Row
- 6:30 p.m. Hunter & Co.